Creativity is the cornerstone of innovation. As a leader, you want to foster imaginative thinking in your employees. The good news is that everybody has imagination. It follows that everybody is capable of coming up with ideas. Whether bad, good, or great, employees bring ideas with them to work every day.
So, what’s the correlation between creativity and innovation? The truth is, you cannot have one without the other. While creativity is thinking up new things—what could be versus what is—innovation is doing new things to bring new value. The product of creativity is the generation of ideas, and ideas are what innovation is built on. Innovation is simply applied creativity.
As a leader, recognizing the types of creative thinkers in your workplace and encouraging their different needs and processes is crucial to fostering employees who can build your business through creativity, problem-solving, and futuristic thinking.
Two Types of Creative Thinkers
There are two types of creative thinkers: deliberate or spontaneous. You can measure these traits in many ways. Using a DISC assessment and profile is one way to help identify which type of creative thinker you (and the members of your team) are. For a quick frame of reference, DISC is an assessment that measures employee behaviors and stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance. Learn more here.
Spontaneous thinkers are often high Ds or high Is, and as long as these thinkers are not in immediate “danger situations” or overly stressed, spontaneous creativity comes naturally to these thinkers.
If employees are high C or a high S on the DISC profile, it’s likely they are deliberate thinkers. These people need a vision or a plan first before they can think things through creatively.
If you call a team meeting as a leader and ask for new ideas without preparation, without giving time to think, the deliberate thinkers will not be able to give many ideas. The spontaneous thinkers might. In the same way, if you call a meeting and tell the spontaneous thinkers to quietly listen, then you’ll never get their ideas. They need openness and the ability to share on the spot while the deliberate thinkers need time to envision the plan.
Your job as a leader is to engage your employees in a way that empowers their creative thinking.
Techniques to Unleashing Creativity
First, you must understand the type of creators you have on your team, whether they are spontaneous or deliberate thinkers, and use that knowledge to address and support them. All employees have different cognitive abilities, different experiences, different educational and theoretical frameworks that have led them to their current state. It’s important for leaders to recognize that and be able to communicate with them at the level that they can understand. You cannot treat everyone the same.
Specifically understanding that people process and relate to problems differently. There will be problems that matter more to certain employees than they do to others. And I’m sure you’ve been in workplaces where employees don’t necessarily care about each other’s problems! The more you understand about your employees, the better you will be able to assign the right problems to the right people based on their cognitive and experiential abilities.
Second, you must understand what promotes or blocks creativity among your team. Remember, not all employees are alike or think alike. The spontaneous thinkers need different environments than the deliberate thinkers. So you must ask yourself if you are creating the right environment for imagination.
How do you present problem-opportunities? Are you helping your employees perceive problems and opportunities for themselves? Are they able to decipher that this is a problem or this is an opportunity on their own?
Third, you must use the right language. When you were young, did anyone ever shoot down one of your ideas without a thought? If you had that experience, you likely remember not wanting to share much more with that person. Using language of encouragement and positive reinforcement is crucial to promote imaginative thinking in your employees. Present problems and opportunities in different ways and help your employees be creative with a variety of methods and statements. Appreciate any and all ideas because your employees won’t be willing to share ideas with you if you aren’t willing to listen and accept what they say. We are all sensitive to this kind of language, so use welcoming rather than repelling language: “That’s an idea; let’s talk through that.”
Fourth, you must set aside time for creativity. Are you giving the deliberate thinkers time to process before brainstorming meetings—or are you showing up in meetings with big problems to solve right then and there? I tell my team, if I’ve ever done this, tell me! This is not constructive for creative thinking.
Not only should you give your team time to think before meetings, but you should also encourage making space for thought, creativity, and brainstorming at other times during the workweek. If you encourage regular creative time, you’ll be astounded by the results.
Once you have established this environment as a leader, then you can expect your employees to solve problems for your organization and think creatively for the future.